Riese & Green Read Books: Lesbionic Young Adult Novels, Part #1

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single gay woman in high school must be in want of a girlfriend, but probs should wait ’til she gets older to actually act on that desire. Or should she?

SPACE

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From our vantage point as immature grownups who graduated high school in the 90’s, it’s hard to imagine a world where our minds would’ve let us “go there,” let alone walk down the judgey hall hand-in-hand with our female beloved. Let alone read a book about girls in high school who fell in love with other girls.

But we’ve come a long way, babies! There’s a relatively bountiful selection of novels for young adult lesbians these days, and since Riese and Green are sweet on young adult books in general, and books for sure, we decided to team up and read all of ‘em, while wistfully wishing they’d been published about ten years earlier. Hopefully you’ll join in the conversation. Maybe we can even talk about the homosexual plots we projected onto the novels we DID read back then … we also found ourselves wondering how different even the plots of the late-90’s novels would’ve played out with the internet as part of the conversation.

Lesbian YA fiction notoriously breaks ground untrodden by adults and often incites book burnings and other conservative hysteria. But beneath the controversy is something far sweeter, and this sweet thing is the trademark of the YA genre in general: books that address social issues (often to a fault) while simultaneously indulging adolescent romantic fantasies. These are stories where the object of your affection usually loves you back, eventually (although sometimes you need a makeover and/or epiphany first).

So, when you impose that archetype onto lesbian fiction and it’s another high school girl that loves you back … what a f*cking kickass delightful premise that is.
Next week we’re gonna talk about the groundbreaking controversial lesbian teen novel Annie on my Mind, and if you haven’t read it, you should read it!
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Keeping You a Secret

By Julie Ann Peters, 2003

Girl-on-Girl: Holland-on-CeCe

So Yeah, This Happens: Holland’s life — swim team, long-term boyfriend, student council, Ivy League prospects and all — is thrust into turnaround when she meets out lesbian CeCe Gooddard. Anticipation is the purest form of pleasure, and then pleasure has its consequences.
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The A-HA! Moment: “She was in me, in my blood, invading every cell in my body. She was the one I wanted. She was the one I saw, felt, desired. This was wrong. He was wrong.”

She Kissed a Girl and: “… she was warm, hot. I wanted all of her. I was falling, falling, with nowhere to land. I had to step away.”

The Melissa Etheridge “Come to my Window” Award for best lesbian stalking passed off as lesbian mating ritual: “I get up at the butt-crack of dawn so I can pretend we’re having breakfast together … I drive by your work after school to see if you’re there yet, to see if I can catch a glimpse of you in the window. I go by your house on the way to school. Sometimes from the library I’d watch you guys leave lunch. A couple of times I even followed you so I cold maybe find out what you liked to eat.”

Oh No She Didn’t: “I didn’t raise you to be a lesbian! It’s sick. Perverted. You’re perverted … you disgust me!”

On a Scale of 1-10: “I was so into this. I ate it in one day. It’s everything a good YA novel is supposed to be. There were some extreme “suspending my disbelief” moments (some related to CeCe’s t-shirts, some related to Holland’s Mother’s radical douchebaggery), but all-in-all, I give it two thumbs up and would recommend it highly. It was just kinda sweet you know?” - Riese

“Definitely one of the better Lezzie YA books. Lots of feelings and an array of traditional GQBLT conflicts. I agree with The Riester – this was a sweet little read. I do wish her name had been anything but CeCe, though. Reneesme, anyone?” - Green

“Agreed, especially since I thought the name Holland was kinda hot. I mean CeCe? I feel like there’s a failed 90’s pop star by that name, or should be. I imagined her to look like Papi. Any other details regarding her appearance were disregarded by my brain which had already settled on the image of Papi.” - Riese

I Did Not Find this Amazon Review Helpful: I wish I could give this even fewer stars. It is despicable that there are authors peddling books to our children that encourage not only premarital sexual behavior, but perverse behavior at that. Shame on Julie Anne Peters.”

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Pages For You

By Sylvia Brownrigg, 2001

Girl-on-Girl: Flannery-on-Anne

So Yeah, This Happens: Flannery Jansen is new to practically everything — college, the East Coast, masturbating and dating, to name a few. Anne is the older woman — beautiful, full of worldly knowledge. Aaaand action!

The A-HA! Moment: “It was just– This much Flannery could say to herself, aloud, could allow into the full light of her wakeful hours. It’s just simple. It’s simple. I just want to kiss her.

The Pick-Up: “What’s a Murphy bed?”

Break My Heart, Why Don’t You:‘Anne?’, she said finally. The question was everything. It was, in fact, the only question.”

Oh No She Didn’t: “. . . Shameless . . . Did you see . . . ? . . . Indecent . . . Freaks.”

On a Scale of 1-10: “I really enjoyed this one! The bright melancholy, the poetic, honest description of emotions and moments. You know how it will end from the first page, so you’re free to just enjoy the story. Read Pages if you’ve fallen in love (hard), tried to smoke cigarettes to look mysterious (and failed), or dreamed of finally realizing your lesbian powers on a leaf-strewn campus far away from home.- Green

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Dare Truth or Promisedare-new

By Paula Block, 1997

Girl on Girl: Willia-on-Louie

So Yeah, This Happens: Set in New Zealand (with a handy glossary in front for those unfamiliar with the lingo), Willa moves to town after a rotten gay romance fallout at her former school. Willia lives above a pub and meets Louie — the class clown & Shakespeare buff who enjoys staging radical comedy shows on lunch hour — at The Burger Giant, where they both work as fast food professionals. Whirlwind romance and conflicts with friends-and-family ensues, lives are changed forever and a dog named Judas barks a lot.

She Kissed a Girl and: “… she’d never before felt as if her body were being turned to water from the inside out, or as if they were both whirling through space into an airless black vortex.”

The A-HA Moment! “I’m in love with that girl,” she said out loud in amazement, because she knew that this was a life-changing thing and life-changing things should be said out loud, should have a moment in time … it was a truth, she realized, as things are which you don’t think, but discover have always existed.”

The Pick-Up: “Do you think he can see us? The pilot, I mean?”

Oh No She Didn’t, Special Honor for Passive-Aggression from Medical Professional: “At your age there are so many hormones being released into your system that the body almost dictates that you fall in love. You primary relationships are with your friends, sometimes the hormones kick in and turn it into something much more intense.”

On a Scale of 1 to 10: “Cute! At first was a bit hard to follow — A LOT of unnecessary characters — but once you get your handle on who matters — it’s a pretty sweet girl-on-girl love story. The cast sprawl continues but is easily rectified by a few moments of pure poetry.  I would’ve loved this book when I was 16, especially Louie, because she seemed really dorky like me.” -Riese

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Empress of the World

empressoftheworldBy Sara Ryan, 2001

Girl-on-Girl: Nic-on-Battle

So Yeah, This Happens: Nicola Lancaster is attending the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth in hopes of solidifying her desire to become an archaeologist. She becomes friends with Battle Hall Davies – hottie dancer girl from NC – and soon wants more. Is Nic gay? Bi? What’s going on?! Sooo many feelings!

The A-HA! Moment!: “And it’s stupid. I can’t believe how mind-bogglingly, earth-shatteringly dumb it is. Dumber than my crush on André, even… It’s so dumb I can’t even cry. All I can do is sit here on the bed with my knees drawn up to my chin.”

The Pick-Up: “I brought you an icepack for your headache.” [or something like that . . .]

She Kissed A Girl, And: “Kissing is wetter and softer than I with my romance novel education had expected and not quite as exciting except in retrospect. Well, no, actually, it is – I can’t explain it any better than that.”

Break My Heart, Why Don’t You: “And that’s the kind of moves she made, all loose arms and light, long legs, and I knew, just for a minute, what music was for.”

On a Scale of 1-10:
“I love the setting of this book — the ‘pretend college/summer camp’ atmosphere allowed for some unique experiences that we couldn’t have had otherwise. I also like how Sara Ryan doesn’t focus solely on the queer girls’ storyline — we’re introduced to the personal conflicts of each member of the clique. Empress is a sweet, funny depiction of sexual fluidity and friendship.” - Green

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Next week we’ll be back with more books and more feelings. Let us know what you think and what you like to read and what you want to know more about w/r/t books ’cause that’s something we both care about a whole heck of a lot!
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Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1744 articles for us.

65 Comments

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    Who knew there was such a thing as “fast food professionals”?
    Also, my girlfriend just so happens to be my high school crush. The existence of these books back in the day would have been a huge time saver.
    I’m just sayin’.

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    I already sort of wanted to read Truth Dare or Promise before, but now that I know it takes place in NZ complete with Kiwi lingo… [pops over to Amazon] Who doesn’t love a good book about girls pashing? ;)

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    I think I read all of these books, including the ones on the picture you haven’t discussed yet. What can I say, I love books, especially those that make me remember being young and stupid.

    Pages for you is one of my all time favourite lesbian books. The other YA lesbian book I love dearly is Annie on my mind.

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        I loved that book i finished it last night. It changed my life! I am secretly in love with my best friend but I to scared to do anything.
        And to make it even worse i KNOW she feels the same way. I am just so scared, because i go to a really tiny school with less that 100 students. aka VERY GOSSIPY/ JUDGING

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    Keeping You A Secret was definitely well-written, but I thought that all the drama with Holland’s mom felt contrived and cliched when I read it. Holland is def a hot name, though (Ce-Ce seemed like too much of a poodle name for me).

    Deliver Us From Evie is also pretty good… I just it wasn’t written from the Evie’s brother’s point of view.

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      Keeping You A Secret was packed full of the drama, yeah? how old were you when you read it? sometimes i wonder how differently i would’ve reacted to these books had i read them in middle/high school.

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        I read Keeping You A Secret for the first time when I was 13. At the time, it seemed a bit less dramatic to me b/c I was in my middle school angsty stage. It was really helpful to me then when I was dealing with the fallout of my first conscious crush.

        I think it just feels more dramatic to me now b/c I’ve already come out to my parents and good friends. Three years makes a big difference…

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      since you’re living in a different land — a land where koala bears roam freely! — you should see if you can find Stir-Fry by Emma Donoghue. i don’t know if it’s any good, but i can’t find a single copy in the U.S., which makes me want to read it that much more. plus, i think i may love Ms. Donoghue, so there’s that.

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        Pages For You is definite quality . . .
        Also convinced the ending is happy – always a bummer when they leave for a bloke but in this case you can see that Flannery moves on.
        Emma Donoghue is a magnificent writer, Stir-Fry is both specific & universal. Although the world she describes is that much before my time & I’m from the North rather than the South of Ireland, the characters are totally recognisable – not especially fond of the strident Northerner . . . The slow burn of self-realistaion works for me, the self-deluding “crush” on Galway & the “laddibucks” comment just stick in my mind for the cringe-inducing factor!
        I aslo loved that evrything wasn’t sweetness & light. If there’s such a thing as romatic cynic, that’s me. Read it! (I’m craving vinegary chips . . .)

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    This is probs def one of my favorite genres of book ever, and I can’t get enough. At some point in my life I’m going to have a permanent address and get a big box of books from amazon and sit there and read for a few days..

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    I totally did read Empress of the World in high school, and totally was enthralled by it and its possible ramifications about who i might BE as a PERSON ohmygoodness. I still aspire to the hand-holding cuteness of its cover in real life.

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    I read Dare, Truth or Promise again recently after reading it when I was about 15 (when it was in the over 16 section of the school library!). I’m a kiwi and there was quite a bit of controversy about it getting the book award it did. I loved it back then but on a 2nd read (in a few hours, I remember it being bigger), I just found I hated the way it was written. But that may be cos its a YA book and I’m not so much anymore!

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      Yeah, there were a lot of issues with it, the way it was written. But I feel like it could’ve been just edited better and would’ve been awesome. For example, the dog Judas just got in the way and totally drove me insane by the end.

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    I’m 19, so I definitely read ya lesbian books while in junior high haha (I realized I was gay pretty young). I remember seeing the cover of Keeping You A Secret at some bookstore and thinking “is that a girl on the left side? a secret? gay?!…..i must have this”. I had a little collection of gay themed books hidden in my closet The irony… :)

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      yep, that’s basically why i picked up the book as well — the cover. as a matter of fact, i managed to spot 3 random LBQ YA books during that trip to the bookstore. it was like they were leaping off the shelf at me.

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    I was gutted when I read Pages for You. Its a great book but I like my lesbian themed books to have a happy ending and not have one of the characters leave the other for a man.

    Anywho…Annie on My Mind is a wonderful book had me smiling all the way threw. Another great book by the same author is Good Moon Rising. And Im currently reading Rose of No Man’s Land by Michell Tea. Centers around 15 yearold Trisha and her one day out with her new friend Rose…hilarious and steamy bathroom sex.

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      hm, i thought Pages did have a happy ending. i mean, Flannery ends up the way i think a young woman would end up in that situation.
      Rose of No Man’s Land is on Riese’s list of books to read! um, she may not know it yet, but it is.

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        You’re totally right Green… Flannery ended up happy and content. I was probably feeling a little jaded, I had just finished reading two books where one left the other for a man…that just really pisses me off! I think I would have been ok if they left their gf’s for another woman, I just cant relate to being left for a man. Anyways another one to add to your list…

        Love and Lies- Marisol’s Story by Ellen Wittlinger

        Its about an 18yr old out lesbian having a fling with her female writing instructor.

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    I got Annie On My Mind out of the library at age 13– my sister looked at it and said “that’s a nasty book.” Ah, painful memories, since I was in the middle of a crazy/obsessive love with my best friend that year.
    Of course it’s my favorite book now. I still think about Liza’s thought “It was as if the script written for us had suddenly jumped way ahead.” Because who hasn’t had that moment at some point? It’s the emotional intimacy of the book that resonates with me.

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    I just bought “Pages for You” – please don’t let it make me cry. I am so bad about that. I hate it!

    I read Pat Califia’s “Macho Sluts” when I was getting my big toe out the closet. If you live in the Deep South and you are trying to get your big toe out the closet, I don’t know that I would recommend “Macho Sluts” – LOL. I knew about dyke daddies before I knew about dental dams.

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        Girl, if you are not familiar with the work of Pat Califia (now Patrick Califia) you have got to read Macho Sluts!

        It was one of the books for the “Queer Reading Group” at the University of Southern Mississippi when I was a senior (19 years ago!!). It was wrapped in cellophane and it came with a pin that said “Macho Slut” in red! Pat Califia scared the shit out of me, but I fell in love with her characters. It definitely changed my repressed southern belle ass when I read that book!

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    Thanks Reise and Green. After trawling youtube for a week, I was so in the mood for these girl on girl tales. Just finished Keeping You A Secret late last night. Loved Annie On My Mind years ago which was still long after I was in high school (not quite the dark ages of The Well of Loneliness generation, but not quite out there yet, either. We made do with Mrs. Dalloway and Mary Renault’s historical novels and her Greek boys.) Judging from current read I can’t say that things have improved a whole lot for the YA set, but it is something to be able to read about those so intense youthful feelings. So I’m going back to the library with my list thanks to suggestions here from y’all.

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    I was 13 in 1997–
    I went to middle & high school in a liberal town/city in the pacific northwest, and yet. I knew a couple gay boys & one lesbian (out), witnessed lots of homophobia and was absolutely terrified. I think the big shift in (some) high schoolers’ attitudes came after about 2003.

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    After I read your summary of Pages for You I decided to read it… and proceeded to read it from 8:30pm ’til now.
    The college-part of it really drew me to it, since all of the other YA novels take place during high school — also, I’m in college.

    Why Pages for You is, like, a bagillion times better than most of the other novels you’ve mentioned:

    1) I don’t feel like a pedophile (though reading about a freshman in the beginning made me sort of queezy).
    2) It read like a real novel — rather than a long-winded diary entry of a 13-year old, which I’m SURE is intentional but I mean why must most of these books read like that?
    3) The older woman-thing… yeah…

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    Oh, and:
    4) It has none of the silly drama that most others have, as though they’re trying to fit in every possible negative scenario a girl in a lesbian relationship might have to deal with. They seem like how-to manuals for the worst-case scenarios of lesbian life. Imparting on their readers, “hope for the best but expect the worse.”

    I, uh… clearly have strong feelings on this subject.

    Bee tee dubz, thank you for the recommendation of this book =)

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    I read Empress Of The World over the summer – it was awesome!! As a “YA” myself (this term is foreign to me – it’s just teen fiction), I could really “identify” and all that jazz to Nic – it was so cute and not even overly-sentimental reading her witterings-on about Battle. The little journal excerpts make it (they look somewhat like my diary, but with more plot). I must admit being British I had my reservations on reading an American novel on lesbianism, but the writing is 0% cheesy and 100% readable, honest and GOOD fiction.
    And, most importantly, it takes lesbianism exactly as I’ve found it: not as a big issue but just something that happens along and makes the story a bit spicier.

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    Thanks for all the insightful posts! I’m interested in getting my hands on Pages for You and Empress Of the World. Maybe even Rose of No Man’s land. I’ve read Annie On my Mind, Love and Lies, and Hello Groin, by Beth Goobie, all of which I relatively enjoyed. However, I read someone else’s comment asking if Pages would make them cry. I’m concerned of this too because of my current situation. The bitter-sweet girl-crush part that ends with the other leaving them for a man hits fairly close to home, and I’m a little worried that it wouldn’t be good for me. Opinions? Or any other recomendations? Thanks! =)

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    yeah i totally remember hiding in a corner of my library at high school reading “empress of the world” and wishing i could have that sweet romance while in high school

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    Keeping You A Secret sounds a lot like my highschool senior year- minus the long term boyfriend and the amazing academics. My first crush and girlfriend was my best friend who I had known since freshman year. I always knew she liked girls (even though she didn’t come out officially till senior year) but I didn’t know I liked girls until I fell for her.

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    when i saw the pics of the books.. i was all smiling coz i bought the first three books; Annie on my mind, Empress of the world and Keeping you a secret 3 months back.. all three of’em was so good especially KYAS. looking forward for some new books.. any suggestions???

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